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The History and Purpose
The Women Religious Special Collection, begun in the fall of 1997, is unique as the first college/university library collection focused entirely on the experience of Catholic sisters and nuns. Intended as a repository for out-of-print and contemporary books and materials on American sisters, the Women Religious Special Collection was created to acquire and provide access to books and materials related to the communities and activities of sisters and nuns in the United States. Founded and sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, Avila University and the Hooley-Bundschu Library are a natural home for this singular collection to highlight the activities and accomplishments of women religious and to serve as a research site for scholars, historians, and others interested in religious studies.

The Women Religious Collection is very timely in view of recent developments within women ’s religious communities in the United States. Throughout its history the American Catholic Church has depended heavily on the work of Sisters to maintain its educational and social services. By the 1960s almost 200,000 American nuns were engaged in teaching, health care and social services in Catholic institutions throughout the U.S. Since then the rapid decline of sisterhoods has raised the possibility of their partial or even total extinction and the potential loss of many of their valuable records. Because the sisters' role in both church and society has been far from adequately researched, understood or recorded, it is imperative that existing books and materials related to their experience be carefully preserved. The special collection is designed to encourage the preservation of relevant materials, to facilitate their use, and ultimately to foster a wealth of much-needed new scholarship on the historical experience and the influence of religious women in the American Church and the wider society.

Examples of significant acquisitions
The collection includes a number of items especially valuable because of their age, rarity, notoriety, and/or unusual usefulness to researchers.

  • Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk of the Hotel Dieu Convent of Montreal: The Secrets of the Black Nunnery Revealed. Maria Monk, 1854.
  • Rules, Custom Books, and Manuals of various women’s religious communities.
  • Religious Orders of Women in the United States. Elinor Tong Dehey, 1930.
  • Complete set of the Sister Formation Bulletin, 1954-1972.
  • Women Religious History Sources: A Guide to Repositories in the United States. Evangeline Thomas, ed., 1983.
  • Marvels of Charity: History of American Sisters and Nuns. George C. Stewart, Jr., 1994.

Books and Materials in the Collection

  • Histories of women's religious communities and/or of women religious in general, and studies of particular aspects of religious life for women in the United States and elsewhere.
  • Biographies and autobiographies of individual women religious, including founders of orders and/or saints such as Madeline Sophie Barat, St. Teresa of Avila, and Mother Cabrini, as well as others who were notable in some way such as Hildegard of Bingen, Mechtild of Magdeburg, etc.
  • Writings by or about women religious including memoirs, journals, devotional literature, poetry, etc.
  • Prescriptive literature for women religious.
  • Demographic, institutional data, and photographs on a variety of women's congregations.

The Evelyn O’Neill Collection

Named for the founder of Avila University, Evelyn O’Neill, CSJ, this collection holds books from the Avila Library and small donations from various benefactors. It includes 400 books and 200 manuscripts on a variety of topics related to individual sisters, their activities, institutions and achievements.

The George C. Stewart Jr. Collection

George C. Stewart, Jr., author of Marvels of Charity: History of American Sisters and Nuns, donated more than 1300 items, almost equally divided between books and materials -- papers, manuscripts, and photographs -- on a wide variety of religious orders.

The Mary Austin Carroll Collection

In 1998, the library received the personal collection of Sister Hermenia Muldrey, RSM, author of Abounding in Mercy: Mother Austin Carroll. Her donation consists of over 200 books plus vocational and inspirational pamphlets, anniversary booklets and more than 300 manuscripts. Many items concern the Sisters of Mercy in the U.S., Ireland, England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

The acquisition of materials is ongoing and the Hooley-Bundschu Library hopes to expand the Women Religious Special Collection through additional donations of books, papers and financial contributions to supplement maintenance and acquisition costs. The collection is open to the public as well as to historians and researchers doing work on Catholic sisters and nuns.

For additional information, to make an appointment to work in the collection, to obtain a collection bibliography, or to discuss the collection please contact:

Kathleen Finegan
Director of Library Services
Avila University
11901 Wornall Road
Kansas City, MO 64145.
Call: 816-501-3711

Visit our website at http://www.avila.edu/hbl/specialcollections.asp

Women Religious Special Collection
Avila University

Kathleen Finegan
Director of Library Services

Martha Smith, CSJ, Ph.D.
Co-Director of Collection Project

Carol Coburn, Ph.D.
Co-Director of Collection Project

Avila University
11901 Wornall Road, Kansas City, MO 64145
Religious Studies & Philosophy
Ken Parsons, Ph.D., Chair, Religious Studies & Philosophy